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Political parties need reforms
Badrul Islam

FORMER President of the African National Congress and recipient of Nobel Peace Price in 1961, Albert Luthuli, in his biographical book, "Let My People Go" mentioned: "The People of Groutville have found democratic methods effective and satisfactory. They have used these processes not only to elect chiefs, but on two occasions to replace them when their rule was felt to be not in the community's interest. This has the advantage that the tribe need never chafe under harsh rule, the standard of rule must be reasonably high, chiefs need not fear the more traditional elimination by assassination or revolt, and the people understand the process fully.",
Luthili's comments, particularly in the context of Bangladesh, prove that for democracy to be stable, correct attitude must be demonstrated by both, the citizen and the politician. On the citizens' side, the correct attitude is demonstrated by their willingness to "exercise their basic right"- the right to vote to elect candidates and what is equally important is to replace the candidate if proved to be inefficient. On the politician's side, the correct attitude is demonstrated by their sincere effort to fulfil their commitment pledged to the citizen. Thus, if both sides demonstrate correct attitude, then a congenial environment prevails. Citizen need not suffer under the harsh rule of the party in power (government) and in turn they (government) need not fear a coup-de-tat or revolt.
The citizens of Bangladesh have twice demonstrated their correct attitude towards the achievement of democracy. The first time the most crucial decision was taken by the Bengali citizens was in the historical election of December 1970, in the then East Pakistan, to unitedly vote to free themselves from the colonial regime. The second time, again, twenty years later in Bangladesh, in December 1990, the citizens in a united fashion ousted the autocratic ruler and paved the way for democracy to be established.
Paradoxically, the political parties, both the ruling and the opposition, have, since the independence of Bangladesh, demonstrated a negative attitude. The elected representatives became "wolf in a sheep's skin". In the name of 'citizen for citizen' but not by consent of the citizen the 1972 constitution was subjected to illegal amendments, violating the rights of the citizen , but suiting the evil design of the politicians; in forming BAKSAL and legalising two military regimes. The by-election process was used by the political parties to replace candidates who died but never to replace "inefficient candidates" as they were required to maintain their "majority status" in parliament. Additionally, political parties AL or BNP, are responsible for not implementing the provisions of the constitution i .e. the Ombudsman's office, separation of the judiciary, strengthening the Election Commission and making it free from influences of the political parties, amending the present article or articles so that the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker can perform independently and also deleting or re-wording the Article 70(1) due to which the elected representatives are unable to voice independently their opinion in parliament. The opposition parties under the pretext of these two articles of the constitution, give a free floor to the ruling party by boycotting the parliamentary sessions. Again, the political parties, have not amended the quota system for women in parliament as they are also utilised to mainly demonstrate majority status and proof of existence of women's right in the country.
Additionally, two incomprehensible impediments to the establishment of democracy in Bangladesh are, the: paradoxical multiparty system and, the procedures followed by the party leaders to nominate their candidates. In Bangladesh, it is believed that there are over eighty plus political parties, but besides the main two political parties, Awami League and BNP, none has its own ideology, strategy and capability to compete in the elections. Their role is to toe either Awami League or BNP to form alliances. Thus the citizens' choice of electing candidates to represent them in parliament is restricted to those nominated by these two parties and the alliances. Independent candidates are very few in number. Nomination is the prerogative of the party leader; none can challenge their leader's choice for fear of losing their own chances of being nominated or being expelled from the party. This unchallenged power is the reason why the leader of the party can violate the party principles and nominate from the wealthy groups who provide large amounts of money to finance their election campaign. Obviously, these wealthy groups have their own interest and also command a powerful lobby within the party and their selection -- bypassing the long-term regular members -- causes dissension within the party.
In essence, what we see in Bangladesh is that the citizen has demonstrated positive attitude, but both AL and BNP and their alliances have aggressively demonstrated negative attitude, as detailed above, causing gross imbalance that weakened democracy.
Under the present ineffectual democracy, the people witness an environment that is teeming with vices like corruption, injustice and inefficiency in the delivery of the basic necessities of life and human security. Like the previous colonial masters, the elected representatives, AL and BNP, and their MPs are wealthy while the citizens are struggling to meet their daily necessities of life. Today, the citizens want to recollect the historical 7th March 1971 speech of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman; "But now with great sadness in my heart, I look back on the past 23 years of our history and see nothing but a history of shedding of the blood of the Bengali people. Ours has been a history of continual lamentation, repeated bloodshed and innocent tears".
Today, 34 years later in an independent Bangladesh, the citizens do not find any difference from what Bangabandhu saw, felt and spoke of in that historical speech.
The political parties, namely the AL and BNP and all other existing parties that form alliances with either of them, have the ability to reverse this situation and govern the country -- honestly and efficiently -- to bring Bangladesh at par with other South Asian countries like India, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam , Korea etc.
The only requirement from all these politicians belonging to different parties is to adopt a correct attitude. The legendary politician of the sub-continent, late Mahatma Ghandi, said that a successful politician demonstrates the ability to: be in contact with people, understand the people and know the problems of the people. Late Jawaharlal Nehru, in addition to his high education (a lawyer by profession), learnt this lesson from his political guru, Mahatma Gandhi, and was successful to steer India (1947-1964), to achieve a stable democratic government and bring a high level of development in the country. In contrast, democracy was never established in Pakistan from 1947 till date (except for a brief period) because the rulers failed to use this formula. Taking lessons from Gandhi and Nehru, the foreign-born Indian citizen -- Sonia Gandhi of the Congress Party -- became a charismatic leader and worked a political miracle defeating the all-powerful Hindu Nationalist Coalition led by Vajpayee. Her victory was a direct result of her study of the political environment, decentralisation of power within the party, selection and placement of Congress members on the basis of merit and experience.
In the context of Bangladesh, the AL and BNP and the Alliance parties must demonstrate their "political will" to restructure and decentralise power within their own respective parties. In the preface to the discourses, Machiavelli's argument appears to be that the "corruption of contemporary politics is due fundamentally to the absence of rewards for political ambition". Politicians do join a party on the basis of an ideology but definitely have their ambition, too, and in order to achieve it, the first thing required by the party is to delegate power to the party members and administer the party with equity and justice. This will create professional ethics and ethos amongst the party members. Subsequently, this practice will filter down to front-line students and workers. When the party enjoying the majority forms the government, this practice will also filter down to the other two organs of the state- namely the executive and the judiciary thus ensuring an overall efficient and honest society. The scions of the politicians or the retired government officials as citizens are entitled to join the party but there should be a "code of conduct," which should ensure that they first demonstrate their merit within the party itself. This procedure will not hinder the progress and subsequent promotion of the senior members already dedicating their service to the party's cause. Thus, an environment of trust and self- respect will be ensured within the parties and the party members need not cross over to other political parties. This will also ensure that if Article 70(1) is deleted from the constitution, the elected party MPs will still remain united and be effective as check and balance on the system.